THE pony racing season is on the brink of being cancelled due to the unavailability of insurance cover.
Just three meetings will take place later the month before the nationwide policy expires on June 3rd. Even securing insurance for those three fixtures has cost €2,115, but the underwriter is refusing to issue a quote for the rest of the season.
The lack of insurance affects all regions, including the famed Dingle Races in August. Close to 30 meetings – covering north, midlands and south - could be cancelled unless an insurer can be found in the coming weeks.
Antoinette Gallagher of the Midlands Horse and Pony Racing Association reported: “We have never missed a payment, or had a major accident or claim, so we don’t understand what the problem is. All our racing is on the flat and we take every safety precaution possible.
“It seems very unfair as we continued to pay our premium through Covid, even though there was no racing. Last year our premium doubled but thankfully Horse Racing Ireland contributed 50% of the cost. They are prepared to help us again this year if we can get a quote. Other equestrian sports have insurance, so why are we losing out?”
Insurance issues have plagued Irish equestrian sport in recent years. Just last autumn a significant number of point-to-points had to be cancelled when hunts found their insurers unwilling to renew policies. The problem was largely solved when hunts collectively amassed an ‘excess’ fund of €1 million to be held by the insurer, while also agreeing to pay significantly higher premiums.
“Pony racing organisations cannot raise that kind of money, even if the offer was there,” Gallagher said.
As things stand, Dartfield in Loughrea, Co Galway, will open the season on May 15th, followed by Letterkenny in Co Donegal a week later, before a return to Dartfield on May 29th.
Pony racing has a strong reputation for producing future jockeys. The long list of top class professionals who had their first taste of race-riding in pony races includes Richard Hughes, Pat Smullen, Colin Keane, Chris Hayes, Rachael Blackmore, Paul Townend and Jack Kennedy.
Gallagher said: “We have a race scheduled for next weekend confined to new jockeys. There are already 27 children entered, aged between eight and 16. They all want to be involved. After next weekend, what do we tell them?
“Shark Hanlon has agreed to sponsor a series of races for female riders this season, but very few of them will be staged unless we get insurance.”
The Curragh staged a pony race during racing last October and there are provisional plans to repeat the exercise at fixtures in August and October this year.